How the long arm of the Titanic reaches out to connect so many of us and influence our lives. The young actor who played the part of Second Officer Lightoller, my great uncle, in the 1958 Kenneth More movie, ‘A night to remember’, was Howard Pays. Many years later, he was my agent.
One day he called me and asked if I wanted to be in Dr Who. He was a bit surprised to learn that I’d never watched it and didn’t much like Science-Fiction. I wasn’t keen, but when he told me the money, I changed my mind. I was only in a few episodes, not a big part, and yet, after all these years, I still get fan mail from around the world. Shows the power of Dr Who. I also, from time to time, get invited to attend Dr Who events and sign photos of me in my original role. Weird, eh?
I was at one of these in late 2011, when the subject of the Titanic came up in a discussion with the guy putting the event on. We were just a few months away from April 14th, 2012, the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the great ship. When I mentioned that my great uncle was the only senior officer to survive the tragedy, I was commissioned to write a book about him, my family and the Titanic itself. This came out in time for the 2012 event. Got asked to give interviews on radio and TV and talk to Titanic groups about my story.
Researching for my book, I discovered what, for me, seemed to be inconsistencies in many of the reports about the sinking. Exactly why and how did the Titanic sink? It hit an iceberg. Did it? Nobody seems to have actually seen that huge lump of ice close to. How did the so-called ‘unsinkable’ ship sink in just two hours and forty minutes? Ridiculous. How come there were only enough life boats for about half those on board, and the first of these to leave the ship were half full? The mystery deepened the longer I studied the case.
Then, very recently, it hit me. As a Sherlock Holmes fan, I realised that the great detective, had he been on board the doomed ship and escaped, might have been the one person to unravel the complexities of a case that has never been satisfactorily laid bare for over a hundred years.
So, the actor who played my great uncle in the famous film, ‘A night to remember’, was responsible, as my agent, for me playing a part in Dr Who. This led to my writing a non-fiction book about the Titanic tragedy and now, a novel based on the exciting imagining of Sherlock Holmes unlocking the secret of the Titanic’s death. Clever though he is, and no matter that he collects proof positive of a diabolical scheme, involving his arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty, even Holmes is astounded at the true answer to the riddle. An answer he can never reveal to anyone.